By Jerry Smith
It’s always a great feeling to watch a film that does its own thing and stands confidently on its own. The supernatural subgenre of horror can be a lot of the same from the time to time, so when a film like Harold Hölscher’s The Soul Collector arrives, it’s like a breath of fresh air, to experience a story that not only gets under your skin but one that breathes there, giving you a sense of dread throughout the entire run time.
Formerly titled 8, this Shout Factory release follows a South African family feeling hard times, having gone through a bankruptcy leading to the trio of characters finding their way to an inherited residence. The family, a husband, wife, and adopted daughter have seen better days and that fact is presented right from the get-go. Inge Beckmann’s Sarah holds her adopted child Mary at an arm’s length at all times, and you can tell that there’s a fractured relationship and some resentment between Sarah and William, her husband. Before any danger arrives, we’re already given characters who are fleshed out and realized, that helps in allowing The Soul Collector’s audience to become invested in the film, so when things do pop off, you’re already in for the ride. Mary is a sad little girl, having lost her biological parents and never quite feeling proper care and love form William and Sarah. When Mary goes for a walk and comes across Lazarus, a mysterious man we previously witnessed absorbing the soul out of someone in the film’s opening scene, Mary sees a new friend, and we as viewers see impending doom. Soon the family is thrown into a tension-heavy amount of danger, with a plot that seems to provide twist after twist, leaving you guessing throughout the entire film.
The Soul Collector has a strong enough opening setup that it could have worked just on a typical supernatural level, but what makes it so special is how unique it feels; to see a South African tale of Zulu-rituals and metaphors for loss and how we deal with it, the pains of a parent losing their child and the dangers of “playing God.” We know Lazarus is most definitely the antagonist of the film, and the way he’s able to infiltrate the hearts of Mary and William is interesting to watch. Soft-spoken and polite, Lazarus has a way of appealing to the young girl and her adoptive father, while also becoming suspect in the mind of Sarah. What sets Lazarus apart from so many other films’ antagonists is how we find ourselves feeling sympathy and better yet, empathy for the broken man. We learn quite early on that he lost a daughter and his descent into becoming an evil demon of sorts, is because of the ever-present question every parent has asked themselves from time to time: “What would I do to keep my child alive?”
The tension found in the film lies in the execution of some great directions and performances (Tshamano Sebe as Lazarus is a joy to see, he’s great in this one), but also in some of the most beautiful cinematography by David Pienaar. The Soul Collector looks stunning and that gorgeous aspect of it allows you to really experience what’s in front of you, being engrossed in a story that feels new and unlike anything else being released these days. Knowing when to be subtle and when to go all out, The Soul Collector is a refreshingly moody, tension-filled film, one that stands out and confidently offers viewers something they haven’t seen since Richard Stanley’s Dust Devil.
Knowing when to be subtle and when to go all out, The Soul Collector is a refreshingly moody, tension-filled film, one that stands out and confidently offers viewers something they haven’t seen since Richard Stanley’s Dust Devil.